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The 1884 Reform Act

The 1884 Reform Act, (strictly the Representation of the People Act 1884 though it
was also known as the Third Reform Act), was the third reform to Britains system of
voting in the Nineteenth Century. The 1867 Reform Acthad been so extensive that
there seemed to be little to change. However, while the 1867 Reform Act had
concentrated on urban areas, the 1884 Reform Act was to target rural areas that had
been bypassed by the 1867 act.

Gladstone, leader of the Liberal Party, was keen to expand voters rights to rural
areas. The Conservative Party, led by Lord Salisbury, was against this. They
believed that their powerbase was rural England and that any extension of the
franchise in rural England would be at their expense as the poorer people in the
counties were unlikely to vote for the party that seemed to ooze wealth and privilege
the Conservative Party. Salisbury also believed that those newly enfranchised in
the counties would thank the party that introduced such reform and vote for it
accordingly the Liberal Party.

The Commons accepted Gladstones bill to give working men in rural England the
same rights as those in the boroughs. However, the Conservative dominated House
of Lords rejected the bill. Gladstone persevered and the Lords passed the bill after
making an agreement with Gladstone that the 1884 Reform Act would be followed by
a Redistribution Bill. The 1884 Reform Act gave the counties the same voting rights
as the boroughs had all adult householders and men who rented unfurnished
lodgings to the value of 10 a year. The electorate after this act stood at 5,500,000
though an estimated 40% of all men still did not have the right to vote as a result of
their status within society.

However, the 1884 Reform Act along with the 1832 and 1867 acts did nothing
for women - none of whom had the right to vote regardless of their wealth.


The 1867 Reform Act

The 1867 Reform Act was the second major attempt to reform Britains electoral process the first
being the1832 Reform Act. The 1867 Reform Act is properly titled the Representation of the People
Act 1867.

There had been moves towards electoral reform in the early 1860s via Lord John Russell. However,
his attempts were thwarted by Britains most powerful politician of the time Lord Palmerston who
was against any form of change.
The death of Palmerston in 1865 gave Russell the opportunity he needed as he became Prime
Minister. Russell wanted to give the vote to respectable working men but would have excluded
unskilled workers and the poor. To this ends, the middle class would still have had the major clout in
an election.

Russells bill split the Liberal Party. There were those who favoured his bill as the right move ahead.
But there were some Liberals the Adullamites who were more conservative and sided with the
Conservative Party to defeat the bill.

Parliaments lack of enthusiasm for change led to Russells resignation in June 1866.

Russell was replaced as the leader of the Liberal Party by William Gladstone who made it clear that
he favoured extending the franchise.

The new Prime Minister was Lord Derby, a Conservative. His Chancellor of the Exchequer was
Benjamin Disraeli. Ironically Gladstone was supported by Disraeli in his desire to extend the
franchise. Disraeli was concerned that the Conservative Party might be seen as a party that did not
favour reform. He feared that the accolade that would be associated with reform might go to the
Liberal Party. If the Conservative Party introduced said reform, they would get the credit for it, so
Disraeli believed.

In an effort to out-Gladstone Gladstone, the Conservatives introduced a bill that was more far-
reaching that many politicians had expected. Russells desire to enfranchise the respectable working
men was expanded to effectively include most men who lived in urban areas. Disraeli believed that
the newly enfranchised men would thank the Conservatives for their new found political status and
would vote for the party. In this he was correct as the Conservatives won the 1874 election though
whether this was solely due to the new voters expressing their thanks to the Conservatives is

The 1867 Reform Act enfranchised 1,500,000 men. All male urban householders and male lodgers
paying 10 rent a year for unfurnished accommodation got the right to vote. The act all but doubled
the electorate. 52 seats were redistributed from small towns (less than a population of 10,000 such
as Chichester, Harwich and Windsor) to the growing industrial towns or counties. Birmingham, Leeds,
Liverpool and Manchester saw their representation increase from 2 MPs to 3 MPs. The University of
London was also given a seat. The counties of Cheshire, Kent, Norfolk, Somerset, Staffordshire and
Surrey were all given 6 MPs instead of 4.

In 1868, Scotland was given seven new MPs as some new constituencies were created or existing
constituencies were expanded. The representation in Ireland remained the same.